How To Choose: Monitor Arm vs. Shelf vs. Wall Mount

Gone are the days of simply placing your monitors on the desk using their standard stands. These days, people are going the extra mile to have a desk setup with that little bit of extra oompfh. And for good reason too because there’s quite a few functional benefits as well as the improved aesthetic. This article will compare the non standard choice of using a monitor arm, desk shelf or a wall mount for your desk setup.

So what’s the best way to mount your monitor? Actually it’s all up to you and what you prefer. Monitor arms free up desk space while keeping your monitor position versatile. Wall mounts can make your monitor look like its floating on the wall, but are more difficult to install. Desk shelfs are highly customizable to the look you want to go for, but don’t necessarily provide a functional benefit.

At the end of the day, you’re going to be the best judge of what you need. For that reason, in the rest of the article, I’ve compared the three mounting options categorically so that you can make the best decision for yourself.

Pros and Cons: Monitor Arm vs. Desk Shelf vs. Wall Mount

The discussion here can get quite detailed, and I have an in depth breakdown by category below. However, here’s a table that summarizes the key points in case you don’t have time to read through it all.

By the way, I generally consider a dual monitor setup when comparing the three options since they’re so common nowadays. However, the analysis generally applies to single monitor setups as well, and also setups with more than two monitors.

CategoryMonitor ArmDesk ShelfWall Mount
Desk Space– Frees up desk space by lifting monitors in the air– Usually decreases desk space unless it is a raised shelf with storage space underneath– Frees up desk space by completely removing them from desk
Aesthetic– Can make large monitors look better on a small desk
– Many different arm styles and looks
– Highly customizable
– Matching accessories (desk pads)
– Floating monitor look (minimalism)
– Can make large monitors look better with small desk
Versatility– Big range of movement options for monitor position and orientation
– Easily switch to vertical monitor and back
– Very easy to change position
– Same as placing monitors on desk normally– More restricted than placing on desk normally
– Slight adjustments possible in position and orientation
Stability and Weight Capacity– Stable and rigid arms are more expensive
– Cheaper arms may not support your monitor’s weight (do the research)
– Same as placing on desk normally– Most stable: rigidly mounted to the wall and separated from the desk
– Ensure the mount supports the weight of the monitors and is mounted securely to the wall
Ease of Use– Harder to install
– Easy to adjust position
– Easy to install
– Easy to adjust position
– Harder to install
– May be difficult to adjust as well
Cable Management– Often comes with support for cable management– Most don’t support cable management– Floating monitor effect requires routing cables through wall
Mounting Requirements– Only clamp and grommet mounts available
– Grommet mount requires hole in desk
– Just requires the appropriate desk space– Require appropriate mounting infrastructure in the wall (studs)

1. Desk Space

Desk space is a very important consideration, especially if you have a small desk. Both monitor arm and wall mount options free up desk space so that your monitor(s) are completely off the desk.

Using a desk shelf will decrease the amount of desk space you have to work with. They generally occupy a large space than the basic monitor shelf. However, you can find some desk shelfs that also provide you with storage space to use under the monitors.

If you feel your desk is too small for any of these options, I wrote an article about the best desk size which may help you choose the right desk in the future.

2. Aesthetic

Aesthetics is perhaps the biggest reason why these mounting options are sought after, and naturally there are quite a few things to take into consideration in this category. At a high level, all three options improve the aesthetic of the desk by providing some organized means to place your monitors on the desk.

While the aesthetic of your desk is highly subjective to your taste, the desk shelf offers the most customizability. You can find desk shelfs that match the look of your desk and are made from the same material. Furthermore, desk shelfs work really well aesthetically with desk pads if you use them and can enhance the overall look of your desk.

Monitor arms and wall mounts can also allow you to use larger sized monitors than what would fit on the desk without taking away from the aesthetics. Typically, a dual monitor setup with the screens hanging off the edges of the desk can easily get knocked over by someone walking by and look ugly because your desk is too small. Using a monitor arm or wall mount will secure the monitors to the desk or wall.

With a wall mount, you can really get away with having a much smaller desk than the size of the monitors (especially in a dual monitor setup). The monitors mounted on the wall are separated from the desk itself, so it won’t look that bad either, unless your monitors are huge compared to the desk.

An additional benefit of the wall mount is the floating monitor appearance when your cable management is done properly. If you prefer a minimal setup and have a permanent desk location, you should definitely consider the wall mount.

3. Versatility (Ability to Adjust Monitor Position)

In this category the monitor arm reigns supreme. A good monitor arm will allow you to adjust the position and orientation of your monitors allowing you to bring them very close to you or further back by simply dragging the monitor to the placement of your liking. Furthermore, you’ll be able to use your monitor in the vertical orientation with ease and very easily switch orientations.

A monitor arm will also help you sit at a healthy distance from the monitor especially if you have a small desk.

The good wall mount can also allow for position and orientation changes although you won’t have as much freedom as the monitor arm. Generally, you have more versatility with the default monitor stands with the monitors sitting on the desk.

The desk shelf is similar to simply placing your monitors on their stand on the desk, but with even less space to position the monitors. That being said, you may be able to move the shelf itself to accommodate the placement of your monitors.

4. Stability and Weight Capacity

For mounting stability, the wall mount is the most stable, with your monitor rigidly mounted in a fixed position. The desk shelf is the second best with the monitors also being completely stable while being used but without being secured to the desk. Both of these options will generally have a high weight capacity that will support the weight of your monitors, however I would make sure to double check for the wall mount.

Lastly, the monitor arm is ranked last in this category. Of course a robust and well designed monitor arm will work just as well as a wall mount and give you the added flexibility of adjusting the monitor position with ease. However most of the cheaper arms on the market may not support the full weight of your monitor and not be able to keep the intended position in the air.

5. Ease of Use

In this category, I consider ease of installation as well as adjustment of the monitor position after installation. Monitors arms and wall mounts are harder to install and require you to follow the steps and have the right tools. You may need to pay for installation if you can’t install them yourself. Desk shelfs are the easiest to install and often times just require you to place them on the desk at the desired position.

Monitor arms are very easy to adjust after installation. They are designed to be moved easily (when tensioned properly during installation) and allow your monitor to be placed wherever you want in the air.

Wall mounts can be difficult to adjust. Some mounts allow you to move the monitor and can hold it in place similar to monitor arms, but some require you to release a latch from behind the monitor and then adjust the monitor. This can get tricky depending on how much space is available behind the monitor and how high the monitor is mounted.

6. Cable Management

A lot of desk setup enthusiasts care a lot about the cable management as badly managed cables can make your desk look completely unorganized. The monitor arm comes with cable management capability depending on the arm you purchase. Some arms seamlessly integrate the cables under their housing so you can’t see the cables at all while other simply have a way to route the cables out of view. Some don’t come with any cable management support at all.

Wall mounts require you manage your cables through the wall for a floating monitor effect which is the hardest option and may require external help. The only time this may not be necessary is if the distance between the top of your desk and the bottom of the monitors is very small or none. In this case, you could let the cables hang and they would be hidden to your desk. Some people choose to bundle up the cables together and let one line drop down to the desk when going through the wall is not an option. You may be able to hide the cables behind some decorations as well.

For desk shelfs you generally have to manage the cables yourself. You may be able to find a desk shelf that has a back drop so that the cables are hidden from view behind the shelf.

7. Mounting Requirements

Desk shelves are the easiest to mount as you can place them on top of any desk as long as you have sufficient space.

Monitor arms generally come with two mounting options. The first is to use a grommet which is a hold in the desk. The grommet allows the arm to robustly mount to the desk and is more secure than the second option which uses clamps. If your desk does not have grommet holes in it, and most don’t, you’ll need to use a clamp style monitor arm. These are quite common and should work just fine as long as you are not overloading the monitor arm and installed it properly.

Wall mounts have the most challenging requirements as they’ll require you to mount to the studs inside the wall or to the dry wall using specialized screws. If you want to ensure your monitors are properly secure, you definitely want to mount the wall mount to a stud and not just to the dry wall.

For monitor arms and wall mount, you also have to look at how they mount to your monitor. Generally, both options support VESA mounts which most monitors use as a standard. In some cases, your monitor may not support a VESA mount and will require an adapter. Please do the research for your specific monitor before you purchase a mounting device.

Always follow the installation instructions that come with each of these monitor mounting options.

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